A Short History of Micromodels

Courtesy of Lester Harrison

Geoffrey Heighway invented the Micromodel concept in the late 1930s. The first of Heighway's printed card Micromodel sets was published by Modelcraft Ltd. in 1940. This was set A1 The Romance of Sail. A collection of six miniature sailing ships derived from large scale plans marketed by Modelcraft Ltd. This set was followed by further Wartime issued sets derived from Modelcraft Ltd. plans. These were B1 British Fighting Ships, C1 Weapons of War, D1 Tanks, E1 Allied Fighter Planes, F1 Fighter Bombers, G1 Heavy Bombers and H1 Flying Boats.

The revolutionary Micromodel concept was to miniaturize the well established printed card cut-out model kit so that an entire collection of potential models could be packed into a small paper wrapper the size of a post card. At another time or place the idea may not have worked, but in wartime Britain the idea struck a chord and Micromodeling became a national leisure pastime. The popularity was mainly due to a combination of evocative well drawn artwork, choice of topical subjects, originality, low purchase price, shortage of conventional modeling materials and the limited space and tools required for construction. Many modelers took to carrying their part completed models, glue and small tools around with them in a cigar box. Having a hobby project to hand helped to pass the time if you were sat in an air raid shelter or were traveling overseas on a Troop ship. Heighway noticed this trend and quickly coined the sales slogan, "Your Workshop in a Cigar box" - a phrase that became synonymous with the product name "Micromodels".

In 1947 Heighway formed his own Company called Micromodels Ltd. and opened a small office at 6 Racquet Court, Fleet Street, London EC4. The office was really only used for administering and marketing the product. Preparation of artwork and printing was sub-contracted. Mr. F. C. Banks of Rayleigh, Essex, prepared large drawings of 4-5 times finished size with overlays for colour, whilst the printing and collation was sub-contracted to Galbraith, King & Co. Ltd., of Leman Street, London E1. Proof sheets were printed prior to a full print run, which were then made up and approved by Thorp's Model Shop of Grays Inn Road, London. Thorps was situated a few minutes walk from the Fleet Street premises of Micromodels Ltd.

The first five postwar Micromodels Ltd. Micromodels were published in 1947 priced at 1/3d per packet (one shilling and three pence). These all had a railway locomotive theme and were A1, C1, F1, H1, and M1. During 1948 Heighway issued a further 9 new sets. These were again mostly locomotives but 2 were the first architectural Micromodels - The Watermill and Anne Hathaway's Cottage. One of the nine was an almost straight re-issue of the first Micromodel from 1940 but this time it was titled "Six little Ships and Galleons". The year 1949 saw Heighway publish 19 new models covering such diverse subjects as Novelty Moving Toys, Warships, Aircraft, Railway Buildings, Locomotives, London Gates, Passenger Coaches and Agricultural Machinery, etc.

By 1952, Heighway was claiming, in his adverts, a range of 100 models. This sounded impressive at the time, but on inspection we can see that Heighway's claim was not based on counting the sets but in adding up the contents of the sets. In 1956 Micromodels Ltd. reached its zenith, but sadly Geoffrey Heighway died. A large number of new projects were catalogued as in hand at the time of his death. We must presume that Heighway knew he was terminally ill, as just before he died he had sold Micromodels Ltd., to an American businessman, Mr. S. Friedlander who owned a London based, mail order, postage stamp approval company. The new company address for Micromodels became Broadway Approvals, 50 Denmark Hill, London SE5. The last packet Micromodel was published in 1957. This was "The Mayflower Supermodel" priced at 4/0d (four shillings).

During 1958 Broadway issued a final Micromodel catalogue. A large number of older models had been deleted, whilst all the much-heralded new projects have been shelved. No attempt was ever made to re-print any of the models so the catalogue merely listed what was available from warehouse stock. Micromodels Ltd. at this point began its slide into oblivion, as by now, modellers had a vast range of plastic kits to attract them, and the austerity years that had created Micromodelling had drawn to a close. The last advert for Micromodels appeared in the Meccano magazine for February 1959. Micromodels Ltd finally ceased to trade some time in the early 1960's. The final Micromodels Ltd. count was 82 packet kits making up into 173 models whilst Modelcraft Ltd. had achieved 13 packet kits and at least 31 single card kits making up into some 80 models.

From the early 1960s to the early 1970s the Micromodel stock languished in a warehouse until discovered by Mr. M. Abrahams the owner of the Watford Model Supply Co. He bought the entire old stock from Broadway Approvals. The first advert announcing the re-introduction of these old model kits was placed in the November 1971 issue of Scale Models magazine. For the next few years, Micromodelling enjoyed a brief and nostalgic revival as Watford MSC sold off large quantities of kits at knockdown prices. It is this disposal in the 1970s that is the source of most of the more obtainable Micromodels that are in circulation today. It is obviously the absence of certain out of print Micromodels in this disposal that is the critical factor concerning the considerable rarity of some Micromodels compared to others.

Email: lester@tridentx.freeserve.co.uk